All children have a right to an education. For children and young people with care experience this may mean that additional support is required during their time in school to meet their distinct, and often unseen, needs. One of key goals of Virtual School Head Teachers (VSHT) is to help create environments where care experienced children will feel more settled, motivated, and nurtured, to ensure a better experience at school. This, in turn, will help to improve, educational outcomes, and contribute to better life chances.
The vision of the Network is that we play a crucial part in creating a country where everyone gets a quality education and goes on to study, work and live well. We make a difference by working alongside those with care experience to turn the ambitions of The Promise into the reality of practice. We create opportunities by connecting with those who live with, teach and support our children and young people. We will never give up in our determination to shape a compassionate and nurturing education system that creates opportunities for all, whatever their circumstances. The Network models how an effective system works to support the education of care experienced young people.
What is a VSHT?
A VSHT is a senior member of education staff in a local authority who works at a strategic level, but not in a physical school building, to offer an additional layer of support to care experienced children and young people. In Scotland, a VSHT is a senior member of education staff in a local authority who works at a strategic level.
A ‘Virtual School’ is an organisational model which is often used to describe the way that support is structured and provided. The VS and VSHT offer an additional layer of support for the education of care experienced learners through one person or a team. The term Virtual School is not universally defined in Scotland yet and is used interchangeably to refer to:
- The way that some local authorities organise the support they provide for care experienced children and young people.
- The group of care experienced children and young people for whom a local authority is responsible.
- The person (the VSHT) or team (Care Experienced Team (CET)) who offers support to care experienced children, young people, families, carers and schools.
The VSHT is a different role to that of the Designated Manager; a senior member of staff in every Scottish education establishment who has overall responsibility for the planning of assessment and support for care experienced children and young people. The VSHTs’ responsibilities focus on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people in the whole local authority area.
VSHTs also provide key links between multi-agency teams and advocate for the needs and rights of care experienced children and young people, and are an example of how education services, in collaboration with others, are working to Keep The Promise. Our VSHT case studies highlight how this is being done, and how care experienced children and young people are being supported during their education journey to ensure a better experience at school.
How has the role of the VSHT evolved in Scotland?
As of September 2023, there are 18 local authorities in Scotland with a VSHT, or similar, in post. In England, the role of the VSHT has operated on a statutory basis in every local authority for a number of years and has been shown to have a positive impact on the educational experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people.
In 2015, Aberdeen City became the first local authority in Scotland to have a VSHT in post.
In 2018, the Scottish Government awarded additional funding to local authorities through the Care Experienced Children and Young Person’s Fund as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. The Scottish Government guidance promoted flexibility and creativity in the use of the additional funding and encouraged areas to develop services to meet the needs of the children and families within the context of their local areas. A number of local authorities used this additional funding to develop the role of a VSHT, or Care Experienced Team (CET), with the goal of raising attainment and achievement for care experienced children and young people. As part of this, many of these local authorities sought advice from CELCIS, as a national organisation striving to create and sustain positive change for care experienced children and families; and Aberdeen City, as the first authority in Scotland to have a VSHT, about how to effectively develop the role in their local authority area.
To help meet this need, CELCIS, in partnership with the VSHT for Aberdeen City, convened a meeting with all local authority areas involved in the work to discuss the support needs of those in the role. Subsequently, the VSHT and CET Network was established, and has continued to meet regularly to share and discuss good practice, participation, policy, and objectives.
In 2020, the Scottish Government awarded additional funding to CELCIS to formalise and strengthen the support provided as the host of Scotland’s VSHT Network. In 2021, The Scottish Government awarded further funding to CELCIS to invest in the continued development of Scotland’s Virtual School Head Teachers’ Network.
You can read more about some of the VSHTs in Scotland and the work they do in their local authority areas by clicking on the profiles below.
Welcome from Linda O’Neill, Education Lead, CELCIS
Hello, and thank you for visiting our online resource showcasing the work of VSHTs in Scotland and the VSHT Network.
I have been leading the education work at CELCIS for nine years, with the strategic focus of improving educational experiences and outcomes for all care experienced children and young people. Alongside Larissa Gordon, the first VSHT in Scotland, I convened the first Virtual School Head Teacher and Care Experienced Team network meeting in March 2019 and since then I have had the privilege of leading this work within CELCIS. Working in collaboration with local authorities, Scottish Government and Education Scotland, we have worked to develop both the Network and an understanding of the impact of the role to drive progress towards improved educational experiences for all care experienced children and young people.
Our role at CELCIS involves facilitating and convening Scotland’s VSHT Network to progress the strategic objectives of the group, ensuring that our work strives to Keep the Promise of the Independent Care Review. We are responsible for undertaking research and evaluation to understand what a Scottish VSHT is, and importantly, how it can have the most impact for children and young people with care experience.
We are still on a learning journey with this work however, we know through our own and others’ research that to have the most impact a VSHT should:
- Be a senior member of education staff and sit at a strategic level within a local authority,
- Have responsibility solely for care experienced learners, both within and out with the local authority,
- Have access to robust data and be responsible for the tracking, monitoring and reporting of data to understand learners’ journeys and;
- Work within and between agencies to build meaningful collaborative relationships for the benefit of all care experienced learners
The Network is supported by a fantastic team from across CELCIS, Education Scotland and Scottish Government.
If you are interested in finding out more about the network, please get in touch.
Meet the VSHT Network
Aberdeen City, Larissa Gordon
Larissa Gordon, Aberdeen City
Larissa Gordon is the Virtual School Head Teacher in Aberdeen City and was the first Virtual School Head Teacher in Scotland, taking up the post in December 2015. Larissa’s virtual school team includes an Education Support Officer and she is supported by colleagues in social work, the third sector, central education services, and a Looked After Children’s Nurse. Together, they work to develop and improve services for care experienced children and young people with a focus on Education. Larissa also works closely with a range of agencies to provide an effective and strategically coordinated approach to levelling the playing field for care experienced children. In addition to her role in Aberdeen, Larissa joined CELCIS’s Education Team part-time in 2020 as the National Advisor to the Virtual School Head Teacher Network.
You can contact Larissa by emailing email@example.com
Aberdeenshire, Holly Robertson
Holly Robertson, Aberdeenshire
Holly Robertson is the Virtual Head Teacher in Aberdeenshire. Since taking up the post in April 2023, Holly and her team have worked closely with care experienced primary and secondary pupils through key staff in their schools, as well as providing support at a strategic level for young people leaving school and children in early years settings. In partnership with care experienced pupils, school staff and outside agencies, the team is currently working to create groups within school settings that support children and young people sharing their views, successes, and creating experiences that support their development both in and out of school. Holly and her team have also focused on building positive relationships with multi-agency colleagues to develop networks, raise awareness and work towards planning support for pupils to improve their attainment and positive outcomes.
You can contact Holly by emailing Virtual.School@aberdeenshire.gov.uk
Argyll and Bute, Louise Chisholm
Louise Chisholm, Argyle and Bute
Louise Chisholm is the Virtual Head Teacher for Care Experienced Children and Young People (CECYP) in Argyll and Bute. Argyll and Bute Education Service have demonstrated their continued commitment to CECYP by creating the senior leadership role of VHT since April 2023 (superseding the post of Principal Teacher created in 2019).
Working at a strategic level, Louise is the education link with Corporate Parent partners to ‘Keep the Promise.’ She works alongside education colleagues to raise educational outcomes for all Argyll and Bute care experienced learners. This includes attendance, attainment and positive destinations for school leavers. Robust tracking and monitoring facilitates early intervention, leading to a greater level of personalised support.
Argyll and Bute’s Care Experienced Education Team have four Health and Wellbeing Liaison Officers working directly with young people and their families. Wider authority supports include a Nurture Team, Educational Psychologists, Inclusion and Equality Team alongside a committed team of Designated Managers in each school.
Louise works closely with colleagues in social work, health, the third sector and residential staff to meet the needs of care experienced children, young people and their families across the authority. Current areas of focus include: Supported Transitions, Reducing Stigma and workforce support.
The most rewarding part of the role for Louise is when she has the opportunity to engage directly with young people, ensuring their voice is heard and represented.
You can contact Louise by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information coming soon.
Dumfries and Galloway, Alison Ferla
Alison Ferla, Dumfries and Galloway
Alison Ferla is the Principal Teacher for care experienced children and young people in Dumfries and Galloway. Since taking up the post in February 2019, Alison’s role has evolved to work alongside a team of three teachers and nine care experienced support officers. Alison and the team work with primary and secondary pupils to raise attainment, with a focus on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, and to support young people to address any barriers to education they may encounter. The team also works with families to help support and progress this improvement.
You can contact Alison by emailing Alison.Ferla@dumgal.gov.uk or phoning 07771252872.
Dundee, Fiona Low
Fiona Low, Dundee City
Fiona Low is the Education Officer in Dundee City. Fiona works closely with the Education Manager (Additional support needs and Inclusion) and is supported by colleagues across Dundee's Children and Families Service, including educational psychologists and the Accessibility and Inclusion Team. Fiona's work involves all school age care experienced children and young people, children with additional support needs, and young carers. Fiona is the Education Department lead on Dundee’s Promise Partnership Board and works closely with the team that facilitate Dundee’s Champions Board.
You can contact Fiona by emailing email@example.com or phoning 07824 343 047.
East Lothian, Euan Orr
Euan Orr, East Lothian
Euan Orr is the Education Support Officer for Care Experienced Young People in East Lothian. The main focus of Euan’s work is supporting those that hold the hand of the young people throughout their time in Education. He has a strategic oversight of policy, procedure, procurement and quality assurance and works closely with local authority colleagues to support the wellbeing and attainment of young people.
Euan’s background is in Secondary Education with experience in classroom teaching, outdoor education and Middle Leadership. This includes Support for Learning, Inclusion Support and Pastoral Care. He is an aspirational professional who values the power of positive relationships and works hard to ensure that the voices of East Lothian’s Young People are a central focus within the local authority’s education provision.
You can contact Euan by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Edinburgh, Faye Calder-Kelly
Faye Calder-Kelly, City of Edinburgh
Faye is a Quality Improvement Education Officer for the City of Edinburgh Council with a responsibility for care experienced children and young people in Edinburgh. Faye’s background is in Primary teaching, and she has been a Primary Headteacher for over 14 years. Faye’s role is to ensure that all partners work with and on behalf of Edinburgh’s children to ensure that aspirations and outcomes are of the highest standard. A key part of Faye’s role is to listen and respond to the voices of children and young people.
Faye leads a multi-disciplinary team within education. The ‘We Matter’ Team works in partnership with colleagues in health, social care and youth justice with a key focus on improving attendance, attainment, sustained positive destinations and reducing exclusions for care experienced children and young people within education.
Education Scotland, Helen Friel
Helen Friel, Education Scotland
Helen is an attainment advisor with Education Scotland. Helen works as part of a team of attainment advisors working across Scotland to support the mission of the Scottish Attainment Challenge: to use education to improve outcomes for children and young people impacted by poverty, with a focus on tackling the poverty-related attainment gap. The role involves working with schools and local authorities, as well as at regional and national levels. Helen’s work includes a focus on providing advice and support to improve outcomes for children and young people who have experience of care, focusing on effective use of the Attainment Scotland Fund as well as wider approaches. It is in this capacity that Helen started working with the VSHT Network.
You can contact Helen by emailing email@example.com .
Education Scotland, Janine McCullough
Janine McCullough, Education Scotland, Senior Education Officer
In Education Scotland our Team work across a board range of areas with a focus on Inclusion, Wellbeing and Equalities. This includes all aspects of additional support, children’s rights, safeguarding, and Getting It Right For Every Child. My specific areas of responsibilities include: Relationships and Behaviour including Restorative Approaches, Targeted Groups (supporting learners who are Young Carers, Gypsy travellers, and learners who are in conflict with the law); Corporate Parenting and support for care experienced learners; The Promise and Change Programme Implementation; and Youth Justice and Children’s Hearings Improvement Board/Partnerships. In this capacity I’ve supported this Network for several years. I have really enjoyed working with this passionate and dedicated group of professionals who feel strongly that all children and young people should get the support that they need to fully access and enjoy education.
You can contact Janine by emailing Janine.Mccullough@educationscotland.gov.scot
More information coming soon.
Fife, Zoe Thomson
Zoe Thomson, Fife
A multi-disciplinary team of staff from education and social work, led by a Quality Improvement Officer, was established in Fife in June 2019 to ensure that effective planning is in place for care experienced children and young people to safeguard their right to experience success in learning and maximise their potential. This includes supporting the belonging to Fife strategic commitment to Children and young people being cared for and learning in their own families and communities. In particular supporting the education planning for those in Kinship care. We aim to work in partnership with schools to build capacity creating more culturally responsive experiences for families.
You can contact the team in Fife by emailing Zoe Thomson, QIO Equity on Zoe.Thomson@fife.gov.uk
Glasgow, Seonaid Graham
Seonaid Graham, Glasgow
Seonaid Graham is the Lead for Care Experienced Learners (CEL) as part of Glasgow Virtual School. Seonaid was previously seconded as a Senior Educational Psychologist to Glasgow’s Care Experienced Team in 2019. Alongside education Seonaid works as part of a multi-agency team with Social Work and Residential Children’s House colleagues. Within Glasgow Virtual School Seonaid is supported by the Virtual School Head Teacher and three Area Lead Officers to raise educational outcomes for care experienced learners. The focus of the team is to improve attendance, attainment, positive destinations and reduce exclusions for care experienced learners. This is delivered through robust tracking and monitoring and support offered to education and social work colleagues. Glasgow Virtual School link directly with educational establishments and Children’s Houses in their area and offer regular training and support. Alongside multiagency colleagues Seonaid has successfully led the roll out of ‘How Nurturing is Our Children’s House’ programme (HNIOCH) across all 19 Children’s Houses in Glasgow.
You can contact Seonaid by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Highland, Kellie Cunningham
Highland, Kellie Cunningham
More information coming soon.
Inverclyde, Susan Chambers
Susan Chambers, Inverclyde
Susan Chambers is the Virtual School Head Teacher in Inverclyde taking up post in May 2022. Inverclyde have demonstrated a continued commitment to all care experienced children and young people (CECYP) by creating a senior leadership role to ensure improved outcomes for all children and young people who have experienced care.
There are two education support workers aligned to the virtual school who work directly with families, young people and education establishments to support the reduction of barriers to education.
Working at a strategic level, the virtual school HT is tasked with ensuring Inverclyde is upholding the recommendation of The Promise while improving educational outcomes such as improved attendance, attainment an increase in positive destinations post school. This is achieved through robust tracking and monitoring which identifies where early intervention is required to support success. Susan works closely with all early learning centres, primary and secondary schools to offer support.
Susan works alongside colleagues from education, HSCP, health, residential children’s houses, children’s hearings Scotland, SCRA and many more third sector partners focusing on improving opportunities and outcomes to ensure Inverclyde is meeting the needs of all our CECYP. This is inclusive of any young person residing out with Inverclyde.
You can contact Susan by emailing: email@example.com
Louise Ssozi, Moray
Louise Ssozi is the Virtual School Head Teacher for Moray having started the post in August 2023. This new role is to support schools and multi-agency partners to improve educational outcomes for care experienced children and young people. This is an exciting opportunity to work strategically, drive change and build on the foundations of the Promise in Moray. Louise is the Education lead on Moray’s Corporate Parent strategy groups and works closely with schools to promote the attainment and achievement of all care experienced children and young people.
Contact details Louise.firstname.lastname@example.org
North Lanarkshire, Mary Jane Hunter
Mary Jane Hunter, North Lanarkshire
Mary Jane Hunter is the Virtual School Lead in North Lanarkshire. Mary Jane took up the post in May 2019 and oversees a multi-disciplinary team, from a range of professions including Social Care and Education. The Virtual School Team delivers projects and provides support through a range of services focussed on raising attainment, achievement and improving outcomes for care experienced learners. The Virtual School Team works closely with schools and many other partners to promote understanding of The Promise and to build capacity of staff in order to support young people to engage and achieve in education.
You can contact Mary Jane and the Virtual School Team by emailing email@example.com or phoning 01698 332045
Scottish Borders, Scott Watson
Scott Watson, Scottish Borders
Scott Watson is the Equity and Inclusion Lead Officer in Scottish Borders Council and the Virtual School Headteacher for care experienced children and young people. Scott’s background is a secondary school teacher with experience of classroom teaching, pastoral and senior leadership. Since taking up post in October 2021, Scott’s focus has been to support and challenge schools and educational settings to raise attainment and achievement, increase positive and sustained destinations and to address any barriers for learners accessing their education. Scott is working closely with partners and local authority colleagues to ensure The Promise is embedded in practice across the council.
You can contact Scott by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
South Ayrshire, Kimberley Keenan
Kimberley Keenan, South Ayrshire
Kimberley Keenan is the Virtual School Head Teacher in South Ayrshire. Kimberley took up post in August 2019 and works with a team of Welfare Officers who work directly with care experienced young people and their families. Alongside this work, Kimberley works with schools to build relationships with staff and provide support to help them raise the attainment of care experienced pupils. In addition, Kimberley and her team work closely with other organisations and services to ensure that care experienced pupils and their families receive the support they need. Kimberley also works more strategically with her colleagues in education and health and social care teams.
You can contact Kimberley by emailing Kimberley.email@example.com or phoning 01292 612309.
Stirling, Aisling Shandley
Aisling Shandley, Stirling
The vision for Stirling's Virtual Head Teacher Team is to be ambitious for Stirling’s care experienced children and young people by listening, loving and supporting them to learn, participate and flourish. Their work is underpinned by The Promise and based on consultation with children and young people. The VHT is made up a number of part-time staff from different sectors and together they support a large number of children and young people in Stirling and beyond. Their focus includes supporting engagement with learning opportunities, monitoring and tracking attendance, exclusions and attainment, promoting wellbeing and mental health awareness, and engaging with children and young people to ensure that they have a voice in decisions that matter to them. They manage Stirling’s Mentoring Service for young people 12-26.They also promote and deliver training and development of the workforce, with an emphasis on raising awareness of the role of Corporate Parents. They participate in the wider Corporate Parenting Strategy Group for Stirling Council and work closely with Stirling’s Champions Board, Stirling’s Promise Officer, Social Work services and Learning and Employment services.
You can contact the Virtual Head Teacher Team for Stirling by emailing VHT@stirling.gov.uk
Resources and information
Evaluation and research